The diversity imperative

puzzle-lightbulbSo often I am asked what companies can do to overcome diversity challenges.

It’s a never ending tale of… not enough women, how can we recruit or retain more… not enough ethnic minorities, how can we encourage more to apply to us… massive cultural gaps between offices impacting communication… too many women leaving after maternity leave… too many long-term sick employees who never return… insufficient diversity on the board… a pay gap that never closes…not enough people who speak the languages of our customers… too much group think on the senior team… why do we treat our overseas employees like second class citizens etc.

Often, if I actually ask the question, I find that a small fortune has been spent over the years on diversity and inclusion training, staff surveys, recruitment fees/headhunting, cultural change programmes, diversity consultants and international expansion. But no real change.

But why not? Let me explain it as I see it…

When I deliver training on unconscious bias, or even just diversity and inclusion, I invariably head home frustrated because I have seen with my own eyes that the most senior person (or people) in the room, whilst finding the whole topic interesting, have completely failed to grasp that change starts with them. That until they can even begin to identify and admit to themselves their own biases, and the impact of those on people at work, that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be achieved further down the line.

But don’t get me wrong, this is not about playing the blame game. Instead, this is about continuous learning and the development of ourselves so that we can develop and lead others.

I call this need for total commitment and passionate involvement from the very top The Diversity Imperative. In my view diversity will never be achieved until the top person, the top team, understands and accepts how absolutely critical it is for the future success of the organisation – and that the work starts with them.

But am I asking too much of senior leaders? If I’m being honest, probably yes. I actually don’t see that many leaders currently having the required competencies/behaviours to truly achieve change in respect of diversity.

I don’t see them being humble enough to admit that some serious naval gazing is required, or open-minded enough to know that change has to start with them, or passionate enough to want to learn and develop, or culturally aware enough to understand why diversity is not an optional extra or even visionary enough to see what the leaders of the future look like.

The reality though is that Harvard and a number of others identified the leadership competencies of the future many years ago. Humility, cultural awareness, flexibility, passion for learning, collaboration etc. None of these are new ideas in respect of the required competencies of leaders for the modern organisation, but they are ideas that too many leaders simply haven’t grasped yet.

So when I issue an exercise as a trainer and see that the most senior person in the room thinks they are above doing it themselves, I see complacency. When I see leaders looking to shoot down everything I say, despite them having paid me to attend and deliver a workshop, I see arrogance and power plays. When I see leaders who delegate the roll out of diversity training to an HR assistant, I see a lack of vision and awareness. When I see a leader who talks about the need to raise awareness of other people’s biases whilst singularly failing to see their own biases that are staring me in the face, I acknowledge my own despair about the credibility and competence of leaders in so many organisations.

But don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes see amazing leaders, passionate leaders, leaders who are shrugging off past behaviours and emerging as exciting change agents. These are the people who restore my faith in leaders.

The Diversity Imperative, for me, is about organisations being self-disciplined enough to not take one more step to achieve diversity until the top person and the top team are 100% committed and passionate in full understanding and recognition of both the financial benefits and the wider commercial benefits. Training, awareness, education, change… every single penny of the diversity budget, needs to go into top team development… before a single penny more is spent on diversity training for others. It’s time to put the egos and sensitivities aside and take this issue seriously.

Thoughts, ideas and opinions all welcomed as always.

If you think your organisation would benefit from diversity and inclusion training, we offer courses that can help you:

  • Retain valued staff
  • Engender great employee relations
  • Attract new talent
  • Address gender and other imbalances at various levels in the organisation
  • Better reflect the diversity of the supplier base
  • Better position themselves for corporate or public sector contracts

For more information on the training we can offer, visit our diversity and inclusion training page.

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